Blog Feedback for ETBD 2013

I’ve enjoyed a fascinating week reviewing your hundreds of suggestions and comments on how we might update our travel skills handbook, Europe Through the Back Door. Thanks for the help.

Here’s a rundown of your valued feedback.

1. Technology while on the road:
Now that it’s so easy to travel with a mobile device, we need to expand our Wi-Fi section with more tips on how to find free Wi-Fi, asking hotels before you book whether they have Wi-Fi in the rooms (as opposed to just in the lobby), and Internet security issues. We will provide information on Google Earth to help measure travel times and distances, and we’ll add tips for using GPS/mapping apps on a smartphone. We’re realizing that we are in a transition period between paper and ebooks. The Digital Age has changed how we pack; we’ll need a bigger chapter on this. While there are a few who say “no” to electronics in favor of peace and quiet, they are like monks in an SNL audience.
2. It is time to trash the fax?:
Yes. It sounds like almost no one faxes hotels any more. A few probably still like to fax credit card numbers, but they can email them in two halves or check with a hotel’s website to learn the fax number. I will try to convince my book team to unplug the fax in future editions.
3. Helpful websites:
I expected more from this. I’m happy that right up there with TripAdvisor.com was Ricksteves.com…but we might need to factor in a bit for politeness here. I liked the tips on creative options, like going to Flickr.com to see photos of places you’re planning to visit. I’m a personal fan of websites run by locals and expats passionate about sharing info on their hometown with travelers. These sites (such as Athens Survival Guide and Madrid Spain Tourist Guide), hosted by an enthusiastic local correspondence, are often very helpful.
4. Phoning and communications:
I’ll never travel again without a mobile phone, and I plan to study this thread much more carefully in the coming days. You could go to school on this forum alone for this important topic. With the help of technology, it’s easier than ever for travelers to communicate on the run and be in good, cheap touch with friends and loved ones back home. It’ll be interesting to see alternatives like Magic Jack compete with Skype in the coming year. One way or another, going to Europe is no longer going behind the dark side of the moon from a stay-in-touch point of view.
5. Sleeping free or cheap:
Sleeping free is no big deal for our demographic, but I’ll keep this chapter to maintain our backpacker’s heritage, and list stronger options for couch-surfing and home exchange. Renting apartments is really becoming popular with our readers. I’ll include more info on finding, renting, and staying in apartments. These can be good even if you’re just staying somewhere for just three or four nights. It can be cheaper than a hotel, it allows you to eat in, it makes for a comfier home base, and it gives you the chance to do laundry. It’s a great option for groups or families who don’t all want to be jammed into one room.
6. Packing tips:
I need to give this chapter a look, as many tips survive from the 1980s. I’ve always said shorts and jeans are a problem. That has changed. And it would be good to include packing tips for fashion-conscious twentysomethings.
7. Money:
I’m afraid that people are losing money without realizing it when changing money. The industry does a masterful job of masking this. I need to make the exchange section smarter. We also need to address understandable concerns about European chip-and-PIN cards, and cover ways to minimize expenses and risk with prepaid cash cards.
8. Hitching and camping:
The consensus seems to be to drop hitching and keep camping. We’ll trim camping down to some basic tips and resources for people who want to do it (mentioning it as a great budget/family alternative).
9. Are travel agents still in the game?:
I have long thought that I might be the last of the travelers still enjoying the services of a living, breathing travel agent. But many agree with me when it comes to complicated intercontinental flight plans and booking for groups. Many feel you get honest rates with a travel agent, and you don’t have to deal with con artists. And for booking cruises, a travel agent is still the way to go. However, for straightforward flights, most travelers do just fine booking themselves with websites like Orbitz, Kayak, Airfarewatchdog, Travelzoo, and Priceline. For the new edition, I’ll likely leave travel agent advice about the same, but pump up online alternatives in two parts—flights to Europe and flights within Europe—and describe the most helpful options. For example, for flights within Europe, those who do it themselves use Skyscanner.net and Europebyair.com.
10. Shower and WC:
Travelers still have anxiety about toilets and showers. And, while it’s nowhere near as much of an adventure as it was a generation ago, I’ll keep my material on this. It’s fun to write about, and it calms nervous first-timers.

Thanks again for your tips and insights.
By the way, today our European guides start to arrive for our annual guides’ summit and tour alumni festival, and I start a marathon stretch of recording sessions for my radio program. You can listen live to the webcast of our recording sessions—about five hours a day for the next week.

Comments

14 Replies to “Blog Feedback for ETBD 2013”

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  2. Just this week I found another very helpful use for Google Earth. If you are considering a hotel in an area that is covered by Google Street View, this is a great way to check out the neighborhood.

  3. I am currently searching diligently for a tour aimed at monks in the Saturday Night Live (SNL) audience. It probably involves a rental car because we don’t want to be with a bunch of multi-tasking ingenues in cities full of the same.

  4. No doubt its am informative piece of writing and I personally like such type of writing styles which have some guidelines for readers and here I am extremely agree with your point of discussion “Renting apartments”. I think its really a heart of this post.
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  5. Rick: My approach to money is to get foreign currency at my local bank, then stuff it in my money belt and head off on vacation. I get enough currency to cover food, sights, and souvenirs for the entire week, but I use my credit card to cover the hotel bill. If I have enough foreign currency left at the end of my vacation, I’ll either use it for part of the hotel bill or bring it home and save it for my next vacation (I travel 2 to 4 times a year). I know I’m getting hosed on the exchange rate when I convert dollars to euros or dollars to whatever, but while other tourists are waiting in line at the ATM in a foreign country after spending precious time to find a bank (and then are concerned for the remainder of their trip about their account being hacked by a “skimmer” on an ATM machine), I’m moving from one tourist attraction to another. One thing tourists should keep in mind is whether or not they even NEED to convert from dollars to a foreign currency. Some countries in Latin America (Nicaragua and Honduras for example) gladly accept US dollars along with their own currency.

  6. You’re leaving useless content in your book just to “maintain our backpacker’s heritage?” What happened to your “content is king” mantra? Your demographic has changed—that’s nothing to be ashamed of! Write for the people who are buying and reading your books, not for the people you wish were reading them.

  7. “I’m happy that right up there with TripAdvisor.com was Ricksteves.com…but we might need to factor in a bit for politeness here.”

    I would spend more time here if the site wasn’t so rigidly moderated. I tried posting to the Helpline again last year, but gave up and returned to Fodors. At Fodors, posters are encouraged to interact (although there are definitely moderators there) and to post trip reports. Over here I just read the blog and check out the tour scrapbooks and feedback.

  8. Have to agree. I posted a comment and link to a website similar to flickr but focused on European cities and it was removed. I’m assuming it has something to do with promoting other websites in the guidelines (Even though he asked for other sites). I have a hard time understanding how someone with such liberal views can have such a stringent moderation of his blogs.

    I’m planning a trip to Paris and, sadly, I find myself gravitating more and more to tripadvisor’s forums for advice and tips. I’ll have to try Fodor’s haven’t been there yet. I really hope Rick does some overhauling, I think he provides a unique opinion and wealth of “travel” knowledge. Just stating my observations not trying to offend anyone.

  9. Make sure your readers know to stop data streaming from their Smart phones or they will come home to a HUGE cell phone bill. My second time in Italy I took my Blackberry with me and was shocked to come home to a $2000+ data bill. 2 things I could have done to save lots of money 1. turned off the data 2. purchased a month long package that would have given me unlimited data for $60.00 quite a savings! I did get a discount from my carrier because I had purchased a plan to reduce the cost of calls while in Italy (I was traveling with family and needed to be able to stay in touch as we went our separate ways and regrouped) and no one told me about the data streaming cost when I signed up for the cheaper minutes plan.

  10. Why not include a tamper-proof code in your books (i.e. something like a lottery ticket or tear-to-reveal paper) that will allow your book purchasers to download the digital edition when they travel? Before I leave for a trip, I like to use an old-fashioned book to do my trip planning/research. But during the trip, it is much more handy (and less weight) to have your book available on an iPhone or Kindle. If I buy your book for $24.99, I shouldn’t have to pay a significant amount again to get the digital version.

  11. I recently overheard a mother telling her teenage daughter that she should “never” travel alone. I realize the need to be aware of your surroundings, and the need to secure your valuables, but have I missed a new trend/warning “never to travel alone”?

  12. In a recent Chicago Tribune column you mentioned that the Paris Metro is phasing out staffed ticket windows in favor of machines, and that the machines may not accept America credit cards because our cards are not chipped. Does this apply to ATM card’s as well?

    My wife and I always use our ATM’s to get cash as soon as we arrive. The exchange rate is much better than anything you can get at from a bank, not to mention that you don’t have to bring along more than a few days worth of Euros from home.

    What’s the scoop?

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